Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the founder of the Art of Living, organisers of the World Culture Festival 2016. DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

The World Culture Festival 2016 is due to kick off in India's capital of New Delhi on 11 March, bringing together nearly 3.5 million people from around the world. The three-day festival is being hosted across 1000 acres of land and is said to be one of the biggest cultural gatherings in recent times.

A number of world leaders are expected to attend the event, including President Bidhya Devi Bhandari of Nepal and President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka. Vice president of the European Parliament, Ryszard Czarnecki, and former Prime Minister of France Dominique de Villepin, are also due to attend the cultural event. The event is being hosted by the Art of Living, a non-profit organisation based in India that was started by the world famous philanthropist Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Bhanumati Narsimhan, director of the Art of Living, said: "In an era when people wonder what to do about terrorism and violence, the festival wants to state that there are good people in the world. We should not lose heart either to terrorism, or on an individual level, to stress."

Ahead of the festival kicking off, IBTimes UK rounds up everything you need to know about one of the world's largest ever cultural festivals.

What is going to happen over the three-day festival?

Narsimhan said that the festival will aim to celebrate "the Art of Living's 35 years of service, humanity, spirituality and human values". A number of spiritual leaders from different faiths are expected to come together during the event, as well as cultural performers from around the world.

Across the three days the concert stage is expected to host more than 10,000 artists who will play 40 traditional instruments. The event will also host an inter-faith meeting where spiritual and religious leaders are due to participate in discussions on issues of global concern. Each day is due to end in a meditation session and the event is expected to break the record for the largest meditation gathering ever held.

On the second and third day of the festival a Global Leadership Forum is due to take place, bringing together leaders from business, politics, science, charity, religion, media and academia. The Forum has been designed in an attempt to allow world leaders across different fields to get together to discuss and explore leadership strategies that could be better adapted to "meet the needs of our current globalising and interconnected landscape". A Global Youth Leadership Forum is also due to take place during the festival, which will bring together young people and allow them to interact with world leaders.

Who is attending the World Culture Festival?

The festival is open to all and is expected to attract 3.5 million people from 155 countries. However, a number of key figures are also due to speak at the event, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is due to inaugurate the event on 11 March. Indian President Pranab Mukerjee was due to close the festival on 13 March, however, he pulled out of the event on 7 March.

Here is the full list of speakers confirmed for the event:

  • Bidhya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal
  • Tapia samaniego, Peruvian Congress and vice president of the Andean Parliament, Peru
  • Maithripala Sirisena, President of Sri Lanka
  • Michael AS Adhin, vice president of Suriname
  • Ryszard Czarnecki, vice president of the European Parliament
  • Dr Oyunkhorol Dulamsuren, Minister of Environment, Green Development and Tourism of Mongolia
  • Linda Cathrine Hofstad Helleland, Minister of Culture in Norway
  • Clara Bacigalupo, Minister of Justice and Labour in Paraguay
  • Robert Peneux, Minister of Education, Science and Culture in Suriname
  • Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development in the UAE
  • Jigmi Yoser Thinley, former Prime Minister of Bhutan
  • Dominique de Villepin, former Prime Minister of France
  • Vytautas Landsbergis, former Prime Minister of Lithuania
  • Joaquim Alberto Chissano, former President of Mozambique
  • Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria
  • Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway
  • Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, former Prime Minister of Pakistan
  • Alojz Peterle, Former Prime Minister of Slovenia
  • Karu Jayasuriya, speaker of Parliament in Sri Lanka
  • Evgeny Kuyvashev, Governor of Sverdlovsk Region in Russia
  • Naheed Farid, Member of Parliament in Afghanistan
  • Sarah Claerhout, Member of Parliament in Belgium
  • Dr Petra De Sutter, Senator in the Government of Belgium
  • Herman De Croo, Minister of State in Belgium
  • Geoffrey van Orden, European Parliament, UK
  • Dr Andre Hahn, Member of the German Parliament
  • Jo Leinen, Member of European Parliament
  • Frank Heinrich, Member of German Parliament
  • Yonadam Yawsep Kanna, Member of the Iraqi National Assembly
  • Ayood Kara, Deputy Minister of Regional Affairs in Israel
  • Hakubun Shimomura, Member of Parliament in Japan
  • Yvonne Feri, National Councillor in Switzerland
  • Neena Gill, Member of the European Parliament
  • Nirj Deva, Member of the European Parliament
  • Shailesh Lakhman Vara, UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
  • Congressman Tim Syan, Member of the House of Representatives in the USA
  • Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, former Member of Parliament in South Africa
  • Armin Laschet, Deputy Chairman of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany
  • Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations
  • Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, Former Bishop of Oslo, Norway
  • Gerald L Durley, Pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in the USA
  • Lawrence Carter, Professor of Religion at Morehouse College, USA

Who is opposing the programme and why?

Despite the buzz around the upcoming cultural festival, not everyone is excited about the event. Thousands of Indians have signed a petition urging Indian Prime Minister Modi to rethink the location of the Art of Living Festival. Environmental activists have cited grave destruction to the Yamuna River should the festival be allowed to take place on its riverbanks.

The National Green Tribunal is hearing a case for shifting the venue on the grounds of alleged violations of environmental norms. Construction is currently banned on the floodplains of the River Yamuna and the Art of Living event is due to see the construction of a number of structures. While organisers of the festival have defended the contruction, insisting that the structures are only temporary, petitioners have dismissed this.

A spokesperson for youth group Swechha, the group that started the petition, said: "A makeshift stadium with a 40ft high stage, numerous cabins and a parking, amongst other constructions, clearly represent disaster for the ecosystem. However temporary the structures being erected for the event might be, the entire ecosystem will suffer due to the heavy footfall during three days of the festival and the damage is irreversible."

A spokesperson for the Art of Living said that they have not violated any laws of the country and that they have "huge regard for the environment".